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Tech companies unite to buy up Linux patents

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A new patent holding company, Open Invention Network (OIN), has been founded with the sole aim of acquiring patents relating to Linux and offering them royalty free to Linux developers. OIN backers IBM, Novell, Red Hat, Philips and Sony said that the company would promote Linux and "spur innovation globally".

Patent licences will be made available to anyone, provided they agree not to assert their own patent rights against either the Linux OS, or certain Linux applications.

The company will be headed by Jerry Rosenthal, IBM's former VP of intellectual property and licencing. He argues that open collaboration is necessary to drive innovation and economic growth, and that anything getting in the way of people collaborating on Linux, impedes that innovation.

"A new model of intellectual property management for Linux must be established to maintain advances in software innovation - regardless of the size or type of business or organization," he added.

OIN, Rosenthal says, will not focus on income or profits, but on freeing developers to write software without worrying about intellectual property issues.

The launch has not been welcomed unconditionally, however.

"Such an alliance, even if it had a billion-dollar budget, could only buy up a negligible portion of all software patents that the USPTO and the European Patent Office crank out," argues anti-software patent campaigner Florian Mueller.

To be "strategically relevant", the organisation would need to be prepared to enter into cross-licencing agreements with companies like Microsoft, in the event of a conflict, he says.

"The announcement talks about acquiring patents that are relevant to Linux. For cross-licensing, it's key to acquire those patents that your adversaries need for their own products. I really hope they plan to do that."

So far the amount each company has invested has not been made public. ®

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